Posts Tagged ‘Edinburgh Film Festival’

Carmilla (2019) **

Dir/scr. Emily Harris. UK. 2019. 95 mins.

This exquisite-looking atmospheric drama based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire tale is a blood-drained version of the original spine chiller.

‘Carmilla’ pre-dates Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ by nearly three decades yet remains a more obscure affair lurking behind the more famous ‘Uncle Silas’. And this film version is a pale rider compared to the 1871 novel that chronicles the dwindling life of teenage Lara (Hannah Rae) whose impromptu house guest (an exotic Devrim Lingnau) arrives in a mysterious carriage. Carmilla eventually outstays her welcome – not not by drinking Lara’s cellar dry – but draining her hostess’s blood and reducing her to a bedridden cypher.

Women of that era were destined to be seen and not heard, and this is the fate of Lara whose increasingly demure behaviour fails to alarm her family. In her first film, Emily Harris stays faithful to the supernatural powers of the book but fails to convey the sinuous terror instilled by Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel. Carmilla is a fable fraught with sullen and brooding characters, but most of the support cast here just seem lacklustre. Never mind a splash of blood, Harris could have added a jolt of life by reanimating the novel’s spectacular opening carriage scene, adding some vital backstory and dramatic heft as a counterpoint to the languorous aftermath in the claustrophobic interiors of the remote country pile where the Gothic tale unfolds.  

DoP Michael Wood conjures up summery English scenery and lowkey candlelit interiors that set the perfect scene for a sapphic ‘love story’ to be delicately evoked by the bewitched duo. Shame then that Harris fails to breathe life into this rather wan thriller that feels as lethargic as the lovers themselves . MT



Aniara (2018) ****

Dir.: Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja; Cast: Emilie Jonsson, Blanca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Arvin Kananian; Sweden/Denmark 2019, 106 min.

This Swedish dread-fuelled sci-fi debut feels like Solaris directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Adapted from an epic poem by Swedish Nobel prize laureate Harry Martinson Aniara is both unsettling and beautiful to look at, embued with the melancholy of its original author who committed suicide after learning that he would have to share his Nobel Prize with his countryman Eyvind Johnson (both were members of the prize giving Swedish academy). Martinson had rather a dim view of humanity: a staunch progressive, his first wife left him “because he lacked political engagement” – hardly a reason for divorce, but something that was clearly vital for the success of their marriage.

Aniara is a slow burner in many ways: having watched it, one is satisfied, but not overwhelmed. But the film stays with you, the audacity and originality dawning slowly as you cast your mind back. A space transporter ferries wealthy Earthlings from our own now uninhabitable planet to a docking station somewhere in the firmament whence they will be transported to Mars. Alas, the three week  journey is interrupted in the first few days when the Aniara, a sort of luxury mall, has to dump all its fuel to avoid a collision. The only chance of getting back on course is to locate a celestial body. Captain Chefone (Kananian) promises this for the near future but a wise, old astronomer (Martini) tells her roommate Mimaroben (Jonsson) that this will never happen. Mimaroben (or MR) is in charge of MIMA, a sentient computer system which allows humans to see viral images of the old Earth, by way of using the memories Earth-dwellers. After the astronomer is shot for “spreading panic”, MIMA shuts itself down, and MR and her lover Isagel (Cruzeiro), a pilot, are put in prison. They are released when the Ariana encounters a foreign body and Chefone hopes that the object will contain fuel. When this turns out to be wishful thinking, the space voyagers are filled with doom and gloom. Cults and anarchy reign, and Isagel becomes pregnant during a ritual. It falls to the two women to raise the child, and for a time, this nuclear family promises a sort of future.

Divided into chapters, Ariana is a slow descent into night. Visually this is a stunning endeavour and credit is due to DoP Sophie Winquist and PDs Linnea Pettersson and Maja-Stina Asberg. Instead of spending vast sums on interiors, the team make use of   local malls, office blocks and amusement parks, Winquist always finding new angles to conjure up the passengers’ sheer terror at seeing their surroundings vanishing bit by bit. The ensemble acting is really convincing, with Martini’s cynical astronomer (“I was never impressed much by humans”) outstanding. There are no monsters populating Ariana – just talented humans beings. AS       

ANIARA is released in Cinemas and on Digital HD from 30th August

Gwen (2018) ***

Dir.: William McGregor; Cast: Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Jody Innes, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith; UK 2018, 88 min.

This Gothic coming of age folk tale is the big screen debut of TV director William McGregor, who is well known for his character based dramas such as Poldark. Gwen is a long version of his 2009 short film, which was shot in Slovenia. Falling between ultra-realism and English Gothic horror in the style of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, Gwen never quite lives up to its early promise, in spite of an evocative setting and haunting images by DoP Adam Etherington.

Set in 19th century Snowdonia during the industrial revolution, the story centres on 17-year old Gwen, her younger sister Mari (Innes) and mother Elen (Peake), an authoritative woman suffering from a epilepsy. Elen and Gwen look after the family’s small-holding, in the absence of the patriarch, who is fighting a far-away war. But doom and gloom overwhelms them from the start, with a series of tragic events: their sheep are slaughtered and have to be destroyed; the pack horse bolts at the stormy weather and has to be put down, and the local quarry owner puts in a bid to buy their farm, supported by the village elders. But Elen stubbornly resists, wanting to preserve the land for her husband’s home-coming (although she has been informed of his death).

Gwen’s life becomes increasingly difficult with her only male support being Dr Wren (Holdbrook-Smith). And just before gothic horror takes over completely in a bloody finale, we learn that even the good doctor is on the side of the evil-doers rather than our tragic heroine.

But McGregor then shifts from realism to full blown gothic horror with the introduction of jump scares and other well-worn horror tropes. Bloodletting and ghostly images of the missing father feel really superfluous – as are symbolic gestures, such as the rotten potato in the ground. Eleanor Worthington-Cox saves the day with a terrific performance as Gwen. She starred in the title role of the stage musical Matilda and is now in her late teens. Together with Maxine Peake she carries this hybrid feature to a devastating conclusion, bailing out the director and his simplistic over-the-top approach. AS



Venezia (2019) Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir: Rodrigo Guerrero | Cast: Paula Lussi, Margherita  Mannino | Drama Argentina, France, Italy 75’

At the start of Rodrigo Guerrero’s atmospheric drama VENEZIA, Sofia (Paula Lussi) lies on a bed in a hotel room, sobbing gently and utterly alone. Her mobile buzzes, but she doesn’t answer. Later, as we see her pace through the winding, narrows streets of the eponymous city, the cause of her tears and solitude is slowly revealed, her loneliness signalling an absence in her life – and an absence felt in the film itself, for the story begins in media res, with a slow-burning sense of uneasy mystery.

As such, the opening raises a string of active questions whichwould not feel out of place in a thriller, but Guerrero instead uses these intrigues as hooks by which to propel an engrossing character study – a portrait of a lost woman attempting to find solace and understanding for what life has thrown her way.

Thankfully, and in contrast to so many other recent films, the opaqueness gradually lightens, allowing us a rich understanding of the problems faced by Sofia, as wonderfully conveyed through Lussi’s hypnotic performance. Indeed, the film’s only slight misstep is the inclusion of a scene which takes the focus momentarily away from Sofia, to give us an unnecessary insight into the life of Francesca (Margherita Mannino), one of several characters who Sofia encounters as she drifts through the city – for this is Sofia’s story, and it’s in following the minutiae of her journey (physical and emotional) that the film excels.

Filmed in striking 1.33:1 images, Venezia‘s evocative, observational style follows in the arthouse tradition which is too often described as ‘detached’ – it would be better, and more accurate, to say that Guerrero’s engrossing, tender film is unsentimental and devoid of emotional manipulation, and that it’s all the more impactful as a result. Understated and light on dialogue, Venezia reminds us that, so often, less is more – and, with a slender runtime of just 75 minutes, it also offers a further rejoinder to the bloated nature of much contemporary cinema. A real, subtle gem.

Elsewhere in the programme, Sasha Collington’s LOVE TYPE D offered a very different, and much more light-hearted, portrait of a lonely woman: Frankie (Maeve Dermody), who has just been dumped for the 11th time in a row. Discovering a scientific theory that suggests her run of bad luck may be the result of genetics and, more specifically, a ‘loser in love‘ gene, Frankie sets about trying to cure herself. Slightly more high-concept than your average rom-com, Love Type D offers plenty of laughs and entertainment, frivolous though it may all be. ALEX BARRETT


Robert the Bruce (2019) ** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir: Richard Gray | Cast: Angus MacFadyen, Gabriel Bateman, Macaulay Callard, Jared Harris, Zach McGowan | US Drama

Headlining Edinburgh Film Festival’s latest edition this very Scottish saga is unconvincing and lacklustre, and far too ambitious for its limited resources. Directed by the Australian Richard Gray and made in the US it comes hot on the heels of another disappointing exploration of the Hibernian legend of machismo – Outlaw King from last October’s London Film Festival.

Setting itself up as a sequel to the superlative original interpretation of the story, Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, Robert the Bruce is much anticipated, particularly by the Scots. And with Angus MacFadyen in the leading role as the swashbuckling Scottish king – what could go wrong?. The answer is a great deal.  Co-scripter Eric Belgau sets the epic during the interregnum between the death of hero William Wallace and the First War of Scottish Independence. Heavy-handed and decidedly dour this is a film with an overinflated sense of its own importance despite its lack of authenticity and dodgy Scottish accents (due to a largely US cast). A restricted budget and pallid performances across the board further ensure that Robert the Bruce will fall on the sword of its predecessor.

In 1306 the war-weary Robert has been violently attacked by his former henchmen keen to get their hands on the bounty of 50 gold sovereigns offered as a reward for his death by the English King, Edward I. A family of crofters take the injured nobleman turned outlaw under their wing and he sallies forth again keen to avoid further ado with the bounty seekers. But brutal scuffles continue to break out as he goes on his lonely way plagued by doubt and desperate to survive the inclement winter of discontent. Rather than make the best of its indie low budget credentials with a pared down, gritty character study about a beaten down hero, the film tries to channel Braveheart‘s epic quality with a smattering of wide screen set pieces, while the Robert ruminates introspectively with squirrelly speeches about honour and duty.  And that lack of cohesion is ultimately the film’s downfall. MT

EIFF 2019 | 19 -30 JUNE 2019 

Alice (2019) ** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Josephine Mackerras; Cast: Emelie Piponnier, Cloe Boreham, Martin Swabey, Jules Ferrand, UK/Australia/France 2019, 103 min.

ALICE sees two sex workers frolicking around in Paris and looking very much like Celine and Julie go Boating from Jacques Rivette’s New Wave classic. One says to the other “We are in control, you will see how easy it is”.

So what did Josephine Mackerras have in mind with her story of modern day Parisian sex workers? Alice (Piponnier) and Francois (Swabey) seem to be happy as a couple: we first meet them at a party where Francois quotes large chunks of Racine and kisses his wife passionately. But soon we learn that he has been seeing high class prostitutes and frittered away the money in their joint bank account, and, worst of all, has not paid the mortgage for twelve months: Alice learns that their flat will be re-possessed if she cannot pay the the arrears and worries about her little son’s Jules (Ferrand) future. Then, finding the contact number of an escort agency on Francois’ mobile, she attends an interview session, and gets the job. She meets Lisa, who shows her the ropes, and they become best friends. Clients are as worst odd, but usually very understanding. Then Francois comes up with a sob story about how his father took him to a prostitute age thirteen. He begs for forgiveness, so Alice uses him only as a babysitter. Then the worm turns, and Francois threatens to take Jules away from her mother. Mackerras ends her dubious tale with a kitsch, over-the-top happy end.

DoP Mickhael Delahaie’s idyllic Paris images would look better with a tourist advert – Alice and Lisa wandering around ‘romantic’ Montmartre is one example of the escalating cringe factor. Francois is the only convincing character, the women leads have to deal with simplistic dialogue; and Alice seems pretty clueless as a woman too dumb to check her bank accounts for a whole year. But the main problem with ALICE  is the director’s attempt to romanticise a profession which destroys both body and soul. AS




Vagabond (1985) Bfi Player

Dir Agnès Varda | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau | 106′ | France | Drama

Venice Goldenn Lion winner Vagabond is haunting story about loss, loneliness and defiance expressed through its remarkable central character played by one of French cinema’s most intriguing talents, Sandrine Bonnaire, who had made her first appearance in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours. Here she gives a captivating performance as the freewheeling rebel Mona who spends her days wondering aimlessly through the South of France, her death in the opening scenes of this melancholy human story allowing Varda to explore and us to reflect on society’s preconceptions about women and the disenchfranchised. Despite its 1980s setting, Vagabond feels every as relevant in today’s shifting sociopolitical climate. A simple narrative but one with everlasting appeal and universal resonance.


Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) **** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Milorad Krstic; Animation with the voices of Ivan Kamaras, Gabriella Hamori, Zalan Makranczi; Hungary 2018, 96 min.

Milorad Krstic (66), director, designer and script-writer of his debut animation feature, won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale in 1995. Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival Ruben Brandt is mostly hand-drawn with some CG elements and very much resembles in style and narrative of the recent Folimage animation feature A Cat in Paris , even though the tone is much darker.

Psychotherapist Ruben Brandt (Kamaras) suffers from dreams and hallucinations: He is attacked by figures from famous paintings like Velazquez’ “Infanta Margarita” and Botticelli’s “Venus”. Nevertheless, Brandt goes on treating his four patients, through role-plays of stories such as Little Riding Hood. They are all highly skilled burglars; so is Mimi (Hamori), who puts Ruben’s plan into action; he wants to possess thirteen famous paintings, so Mimi heads first to the Paris Louvre, hotly pursued by detective Kowalski (Makranczi), who has been hired by various insurance companies, who put a 100million dollar bounty on Ruben’s head. But Brandt becomes increasingly desperate, his dreams growing ever more violent. We see little Ruben, his neurologist father making him watch cartoons, a favourite is Rusalocka in “The Little Mermaid”. The thieves embark on a world cruise to steal Van Gogh’s “Postman Roulin”, Titan’s “Venus of Urbino” and Picasso’s “Woman with Book”, visiting the Uffizzi, the Hermitage, Tate and MoMA. There are flying cats, and the pictures start to interact with Ruben. In the Pantheon, Ruben is asked to participate in a Western duel, before being whisked off in a plane to Arles in Provence. Matters become even more complicated it emerges that Kowalski is Ruben’s half-brother. Their father Gerhardt was a Stasi spy who defected to the USA and worked for the CIA on neurological research. He has just died, and Kowalski’s mother tells his son, “ I had to leave your father, so you could have your own dreams”. Ruben meanwhile is meeting the painter Renoir, and is trying to unravel his father’s life. After a wild hunt, when the six are hunted down by two oil-tankers and a helicopter, the chase ends in Tokyo, during the attempted theft of the last painting, Warhol’s “Double Elvis”.

On one level Ruben Brandt is a haunt caper, one the other a trip through European film history from ‘Caligari’, Eisenstein, Hitchcock to Wenders. Krstic is clear about his intentions: “To be haunted by ghosts or zombies in nightmares is a cliché, it’s more exciting to be haunted by Velázquez’s ‘Infanta Margarita’ or Botticelli’s ‘Venus.” And paraphrasing Godard he explains his aesthetic concept: “For me drawing is imagination, and animated film is imagination twenty-four times a second.” His attempt at an ‘audio-visual symphony’ might be strange at times, but is always fascinating, and even in its most absurd moments Ruben Brandt is utterly compelling. A unique, magical, trippy experience, a throwback to the Sixties with its echoes of Pink Panther.


Summer 1993 (2017) Bfi player

Dir/Writer: Carla Simón | Drama | Spain, 2017 | 96′

Tears will well up within the first few minutes of this tender tale about a little orphaned Catalan girl coping with grief and uncertainty after her parents’ death. Cast your mind back to the panic and fear of losing sight of your own mother in the supermarket when you were six. And that coupled with the realisation that she’s never coming back is the feeling Simón inspires in debut that won Best First Feature award at Berlinale 2017.

Shooting at waist level the director manages to convey life from Frida’s perspective, and Laia Artigas gives a determined performance, mature for one so young. She views her new family set-up with a certain feral mistrust tempered with the anger of abandonment brought on by insecurity and steely pragmatism. Frida is not sure how to respond to her changed circumstances as she goes about her daily routine in the limpid naturalistic light of the family’s home in rural Girona. It’s only in quiet moments that she allows herself to dissolve in tears.

Life couldn’t be better with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer, 10,000km), aunt Marga (Bruna Cusi), and toddler cousin Anna (Paula Robles), and Simón’s quietly observant treatment takes a ‘less is more’ approach as she tells her story, for the most part without dialogue, allowing us to contemplate and revisit our own childhood through Frida’s innocent eyes.

Marga is clearly on her best behaviour, often chiding Anna as she strains to protect Frida with kid gloves. Clearly, Frida’s bereavement is not going to be as simple as we thought. Simón brings her own experiences to bear in a story that has an certain unsettling feel throughout its well-paced running time making SUMMER 1993 – although not entirely surprising – engaging and quietly memorable. MT



Blancanieves (2012) **** Edinburgh Film Festival

Dir: Pablo Berger | Cast: Maribel Verdu, Emilio Gavira, Daniel Gimenez Cacho | Spain Drama 110’

A bittersweet homage to the Golden Age of Spanish silent cinema, Pablo Berger’s intoxicating Gothic fantasy relocates the tale of Snow White to a sweepingly romantic vision of 1920s Seville, where a little girl overcomes cruel adversity to find fame as a bullfighter.

Tinged with melancholy and the macabre, along the lines of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Blancanieves is delicately rendered in elegant black and white and set to Alfonso de Vilallonga’s lush score.

Carmen (played by Sofia Oria as a child and Macarena Garcia in later life) is the daughter of a proud and famous bullfighter who is paralysed in the ring.  After her mother’s death in childbirth, her father remarries unwisely to Marbel Verdu’s spiteful and self-centred virago Encarna. She neglects both Carmen and her father who later dies leaving the little girl at her mercy.  In this version six miniature bullfighters take the role of the seven dwarfs who come to Carmen’s rescue after finding her abandoned one day by Encarna. She is re-named ‘Blancanieves’.

As the story progresses, the production is slightly hampered by tonal differences as heightened melodrama struggles with Gothic and surreal fantasy to create slightly off-key episodes of banal humour which detract from the graceful delicacy of Kiko de la Rica’s cinematography.  A passionate and inspired creation, nevertheless, with the fresh appeal of The Artist tweaked with touches of Buñuel: it has certainly won the hearts of the Festival Circuit Juries winning no less than 33 awards in one year for script, score, cinematography, cast and costumes. Snow White has never looked so good!. MT

BLANCANIEVES screening on 22 June 2019 at EIFF | Part of the Once Upon a Time in Spain Strand


Edinburgh Film Festival 2019 – New Films

Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) is taking place between 19th and 30th June. This year the Festival will screen around 121 new features, including 18 feature film World Premieres from across the globe.

This year the focus is Spain and there will be a particular emphasis on genre films from women directors from around the world, ranging from gothic romance and Western chills through to science fiction and old-fashioned horror. All this set alongside a tribute to French filmmaker Agnès Varda, a woman who has inspired generations of directors.

There will be guests including one of Britain’s most successful directors, Danny Boyle, award-winning actor and producer Jack Lowden, British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield and Scottish writer, director and actor Pollyanna McIntosh who also brings her latest film, Darlin’ to this year’s EIFF, and director, actor, writer and producer Icíar Bollaín. 

The festival will screen the world premiere of Adrian Noble’s Mrs Lowry & Son, starring Timothy Spall as the iconic painter L S Lowry, and Vanessa Redgrave. The Black Forest described as a ‘love letter to Europe’ from writer-director Ruth Platt; and coming-of-age supernatural love story Carmilla from director Emily Harris.

The EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES strand features: Elfar Adalsteins’ End of Sentence where a bickering father and son from America take a road trip in Ireland; The Emperor of Paris starring Vincent Cassel will receive its UK Premiere at the Festival alongside Rudolph Herzog’s amusing How to Fake a War starring Katherine Parkinson and Aniara, an epic science-fiction drama about a passenger spaceship lost in the void, as well as titles including Barbara Vekarić’s Aleksi from Croatia; Susanne Heinrich’s Aren’t You Happy? from Germany and Swiss psychological drama Cronofobia. Audiences can also look forward to the return of France’s favourite Gaul in Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion.

This year’s WORLD PERSPECTIVES strand offers audiences an exciting and challenging array of new works by talented filmmakers from around the world. Highlights include: the World Premieres of Astronaut, starring Richard Dreyfuss as a lonely widower who dreams of a trip to space and Rodrigo Guerrero’s Venezia. Australian cinema features prominently this year with the acclaimed Acute Misfortune, a striking, brilliant and unconventional portrait of one of Australia’s most acclaimed and idiosyncratic painters, Adam Cullen; Other highlights include two South Korean action-adventure masterclasses in the form of Unstoppable and box office smash Extreme Job.

This year’s DOCUMENTARIES programme reflects the ability of documentary film to amaze, inspire, challenge, provoke and fascinate audiences, offering them the unique chance to travel the world and see strange and unusual sights. Strand highlights include:Memory: The Origins of Alien, a fascinating documentary about the making of Alien from the very beginning; This Changes Everything which examines the problems faced by women filmmakers and features interviews with Hollywood greats including Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett; Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk narrated by former caddie Bill Murray and Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, from Nick Broomfield, giving audiences an insight into Leonard Cohen’s love affair with Marianne Ihlen. 

This year’s retrospective strand entitled ONCE UPON A TIME IN SPAIN, will explore Spain’s rich cinematic history through three strands: A Retrospective Celebration of Modern Spanish Cinema; A Retrospective Selection of Cult Spanish Cinema and an in-depth celebration of the work of legendary Spanish writer, actor and filmmaker, Icíar Bollaín. Designed to begin where the retrospective ends, FOCUS ON SPAIN features a selection of brand new Spanish cinema by some of the country’s most promising directors. Highlights include: Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles from Salvador Simó, an accomplished and fitting homage to the great master of surrealist cinema; the directorial debut from Nicolás Pacheco Cages and gripping sci-fi thriller h0us3 from Manolo Munguía, inspired by the mysterious ‘insurance files’ famously employed by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. 

The Festival will screen a number of films by the late great Agnès Varda across a retrospective strand entitled THE FEATURES OF AGNÈS and Varda by Agnès, her final film which will be introduced by Honorary Patron Mark Cousins.

Audiences can look forward to a whistle-stop tour of the latest ideas and techniques being explored in the world of animated film in the International Animation selection, as part of the Festival’s annual dedicated ANIMATION strand, as well as a screening of an anthology of anime shorts from the Japanese Studio Ponoc – the anticipated successor to Studio Ghibli – in association with Scotland Loves Anime.

If the weather holds there will be a free open-air cinema event, Film Fest in the City with Edinburgh Live, at St Andrew Square Garden, running from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th June 2019.



The Accountant of Auschwitz (2018) Netflix

Dir.: Matthew Shoychet; Documentary; Canada 2018, 80 min.

Oskar Gröning, known as the accountant of Auschwitz, lived out a peaceful existence in his hometown of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony for 70 years  – unperturbed by guilt or singled out for his actions as an active member of the SS of Auschwitz. He would eventually get his comeuppance in 2015.

In his debut documentary Canadian director/writer Matthew Shoychet chronicles the 2015 trial against Gröning, featuring testimonies from the defendant himself and the surviving victims and the last living judge from the Nuremberg trial and Holocaust deniers.

Born in 1921 into a nationalist family, Oskar Gröning was unremarkable but seized the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined the SS during the Second World War. Employed at Auschwitz, he was responsible for overseeing all the artefacts stolen from Jewish internees as soon as they arrived at the Polish camp. The goods trains would turn up laden with their human cargo and Gröning would be present and correct on the infamous “Rampe”, where Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death prepared to make the macabre decision as to who would be gassed immediately, or who could be of some use as a worker for a limited period. Gröning witnessed some gruesome events: when a mother turned up with her suitcase hiding a her baby, the child’s crying gave them both away to the guards and both were immediately executed. “The crying stopped” was all Gröning had to say.

But the survivors’ reactions could not have been more different: Bill Glied (who died in 2018) even considered that a certain form of justice had been done. But Eva Morez, who survived the deadly twin experiments of Joseph Mengele (together with her sister Miriam), expressed extreme gratitude to Gröning, offering him a hug.

Benjamin Ferenc, Judge at the Nuremberg Trials, explains why the outcome of this trial is so important and why there should never be a statute of limitations for genocide. He explains how the German justice systems had absolutely no vested interest in prosecuting SS men and other guards who kept the concentration camps going. Sure, they were little cogs in the death machine, but without them, it would have ground to a halt.

The SS had around 800, 000 men in 1945. And although it was declared a “Criminal Association” only around 200,000 the members were vetted,  a mere of these 6000 prosecuted, with just 124 life sentence given out. The judges had a vested interest in making sure the whole affair was kept low-key, lest they themselves be implicated. In the end Oskar Gröning was found guilty and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment as an accessory to murder in thousands of cases. He lost all his appeals but died before he started his sentence in 2018.

The Accountant makes for sobering viewing: once again it shows how the huge majority of German civilians of the time actively supported the concentration camps by keeping ‘schtum’ and shielding those involved in the atrocities. Even today films like Luke HOlland’s Final Account (2020) show how Germans turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, some actively condoning it. AS








Swimming with Men (2018) **

Dir: Oliver Parker | Writer: Aschlin Ditta | Cast: Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Rob Brydon, Nathaniel Parker,  Adheel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Jim Carter | UK Comedy | 96′

Oliver Parker is clearly feeling for middle-aged men. His latest film is a  comedy that means well in tackling marriage breakdown and mid-life crisis from a male perspective. It sees Rob Brydon’s bored accountant Eric driven neurotic by his partner’s new success in politics (Jane Horrocks in fine form), while he sits on the sidelines, a disillusioned accountant – so what’s new?. The only thing that makes Eric happy is a dip in the local swimming baths where he bumps into a motley crew of jaded men also down on their luck, but not all past it. Agreeing to keep their personal lives strictly off-poolside, they gradually begin to find the life aquatic gives them a reason for living again. And limbering up with the encouragement of coach Susan (Charlotte Riley) they discover that swimming in sync is the answer to their woes, but not their flabby waistlines. So off they go to Milan.

Sound great, doesn’t it? And you could see where Parker was coming from. The problem is that the direction and writing are the only things out of sync in a comedy of woes that needed to be much tighter and funnier. There are some heartfelt performance from a brilliant British cast (Christian Rubeck is luminous as the token German),  and you can’t help feeling for these guys, particularly Luke (Rupert Graves) and (Thomas Turgoose). But there are hardly any laughs to be had from Ditta’s script, which mostly just feels embarrassingly over the top, or miserably maudlin, and too many lingering close-ups are nobody’s idea of fun.

SWIMMING WITH MEN | nationwide From July 6.

Len and Company (2015) | Edinburgh Film Festival 17 – 28 June 2015

Director: Tim Godsall     Script: Tim Godsall, Katharine Knight

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Jack Kilmer, Juno Temple

USA/Canada Drama 105mins

Montreal-born Tom Godsall brings together a veteran and a newcomer by way of a rising star in his debut feature LEN AND COMPANY, in which Rhys Ifans plays crabby superstar music producer Len, who wearily retreats to his country home in Upstate New York followed by his aspiring and retiring rockstar son Max (Jack Kilmer) and his newest award-winning collaborator Zoe (Juno Temple). Commendable primarily for allowing a limited performer like Ifans to play to his strengths, this curious and mostly understated drama world-premieres at the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival.

From the moment we first set eyes on Len, whose comical grouchiness offsets the otherwise cheery tempo of Ian Dury’s ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,’ we infer the story to come: stubbornly irritable old hand retires for some peace and quiet, only for the weak foundations of his idyll to be uprooted by unwelcome if belatedly appreciated visitors. If the particulars aren’t entirely precise, the general gist is there: it’s not long before Len’s son Max shows up, complete with inoffensively bland hairdo and a secret desire to have his dad listen to a new demo he’s made with some pals. Max finds it difficult to connect with his dad; the latter even responds to the mention of a Liverpool football match with a curt dismissal. It’s only when Zoe, the outwardly feisty but vulnerable popstar with whom Len has just made a hit record, also shows up that Len’s paternal and professional laziness are finally confronted.

For the most part (though it has its pitfalls, the most risible of which involves a final act visit from one of Zoe’s admirers) Godsall’s script, co-written with Katharine Knight, unfolds by way of casual segues rather than dramatic standoffs—unexpectedly so, perhaps, given the director’s success making TV commercials. André Pienaar’s consistently unshowy autumnal cinematography, meanwhile, helps to further subdue any would-be melodrama. The emphasis here is more on those unspoken wishes, the ones that gnaw away from within. Whatever kind of resolution is on the cards, here, it’s to be embodied by Ifans’s trademark raised eyebrow—and little more.

It’s a giant in-joke by now that any film character would find Ifans remotely appealing, and details about Len’s own artistic success here are suitably scant. Worn out by his own lifestyle and barely ready to admit to anything resembling regrets, Len prefers to sit around watching old episodes of The Sweeney and Blackadder on DVD. Likewise, Ifans keeps things relatively low-key, delivering lines like “she was an underfed coyote, poor thing” and “cheeky fucking cunt bastard” with a functional rather than expressive register. It’s a clever casting choice, all told: opposite Kilmer (Val’s son) and Temple, Ifans cuts an effectively exhausted figure, as much bemused as anyone by his own longevity. MICHAEL PATTISON


Edinburgh Film Festival 19-30 June 2013

The Edinburgh Film Festival is one of the major festivals for discovering and promoting the best in international cinema.  Intimate in scale but ambitious in scope, it aims to spotlight the most exciting and innovative new film talent and celebrates Scotland’s cultural and creative strengths on the World stage. This year EIFF celebrates 67 years.










This year features a JEAN GREMILLON strand entitled Symphonies of Life offering such delights as Daïnah la Metisse (1931); Maldone (1928); Le Ciel est a Vous (1944) and Remorques (1941) (Stormy Waters). There’s also a chance to join an international panel of film specialists to talk about the films of the acclaimed French director who was active  from the thirties to the early fifties.

7 BOXES (2012) – Drama  Paraquay

Although fleetingly reminiscent of Hollywood suspense thrillers, this lo-fi award-winning crime caper has its roots much further back: it brings to mind the The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), with its bungling criminals, street-savvy kids, honour among thieves and urban setting. That and Meirelles’ sublime 2002 film City Of God.  Likewise, 7 Boxes simply could not have been made on 35mm; with the imaginative, progressive choice of camera angles, some lightning set pieces not to mention the nighttime low-light location of the Asuncion outdoor market bazaar. A must see. MT

FRANCES HA (2013)   USA – Drama

Noah Baumbach Oscar-worthy black and white drama set in New York, tells of a twenty-something dancer and her fashionable and aspirational friends.  Whip-smart script and sophisticated visuals.

THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO (2012)   Portugal/Macao – Drama

A bittersweet and wistful story set in the faded backwaters of Macao.  Through glimpses of its past as a Portuguese colony and now a gambling island, a mysterious and seedy tale of love, regret and intrigue emerges and asks the question, can we ever return to the past?

LEVIATHAN (2012)   – Documentary

How does it feel to be a deep sea fisherman in the cruel sea, or a crab, for that matter?  Haunting and atmospheric, LEVIATHAN has worked its magic slowly up through the festival circuit.  Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel use the frightening power of sound and vision to transport us on a bare-knuckle ride through a commercial fishing trip from the perspective of the both the fishermen and their catch.

MAGIC MAGIC (2013) US Drama

With more than a shade of Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant, Sebastian Silva presents a supernatural thriller set in Chile. Michael Cera (Juno) and Emily Browning (Summer In February) inhabit an eerie and portentous tale of a woman’s descent into madness and loss of identity.

THE DEEP (2012)  Iceland – Docudrama

Based on a true story of a sailing accident in Iceland, THE DEEP shifts in tone from drama to documentary-style as it charts the extraordinary aftermath of this tale of survival. Although it sometimes fails to give full throttle to the tragedy for fear of upsetting the existing fishing community, it’s nevertheless a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

FAT SHAKER-  Iran – Experimental Drama

A curious and at times grotesque study of a young Iranian man and his relationship with his obese father. Experimental in nature, the narrative sails close to the wind with some sights for sore eyes and is often muddled but this is a film worth watching for its unusual approach.

THE BERLIN FILE  – Korean Drama

Stationed in Berlin, North Korean secret agent and weapons trader Pyo and his embassy staffer wife Ryon lead risky lives. When an arms deal with an Arab organization is exposed, Pyo’s intuition tells him that North Korean security is compromised and he becomes the target of investigation by South Korean intelligence.

JISEUL  (2012) South Korean Drama

With its striking black and white aesthetic comes a tale of South Korean islanders’ 1950s uprising against police brutality.  Combining episodes of eerie calm and histrionic emotion this abstract drama feels detached as an exercise in storytelling but as a visual masterpiece it is outstanding and won the World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize at Sundance 2013.

FOR THOSE IN PERIL (2013) UK Thriller

This low budget britflic has a brilliant central performance from George MacKay who plays a bereaved brother and the lone survivor of a fishing trip in Scotland. Part ghost-story, part psychological thriller, its atmospheric visuals and pervading sense of sadness and loss marks it out as a stunning feature debut for writer director Paul Wright

SOFIA’S LAST AMBULANCE (2013) Bulgaria Documentary

An optimistic and beautifully observed documentary that follows the critically underfunded and painfully pressurised team of Dr Krassi as they serve the needs of Sofia’s A&E patients with care and dedication and surprisingly good humour, amid closures and roads that make ours look like superhighways.


This nightmarish classic from the science fiction genre seems to be coming true a few years before its originally projected date of 2022.  Richard Fleischer predicted an over-populated New York fed by synthetic food supplies in this ambitious thriller with surprisingly prescient environmental concerns for an era where plastic black forest gateau and coloured mayonnaise was ‘de rigeur’ at most dinner parties. Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson are convincing leads.


A bold and beautifully expressive film with its oblique and innovative narrative and hypnotic soundtrack.  This is Shane Carruth’s follow-up to Primer in which he acts, directs, writes and also produces.  Part-thriller, part sci-fi it remains in the memory for a long time afterwards with its chilling subject matter.










The Servant (1963)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Harold Pinter | UK Drama

Although generally attributed to Joseph Losey it should always be borne in mind that there were three intellects behind this film.

It makes much more sense if one is aware that it originated with a novella by Robin Maugham, who admitted that it was based on an episode when he was a young man when a butler introduced a good-looking young ‘nephew’ into the household and the book is a speculation on what might have happened had he risen to the bait; and certainly makes one view the ‘fiancé’ played by Sarah Miles in a new light.

Also with a claim to authorship was Harold Pinter who supplied the sly humour (such as the venomous arguments of the two bachelors forced to cohabit); while Maugam derisively sneered upon viewing (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) the climactic orgy that the script was plainly the work of a simple working class lad “who’d never been to an orgy in his life!”

Finally the element of serendipity dictated the considerable visual impact supplied by a London shrouded in snow by the great winter of 1963 that the film of ‘The Caretaker’ had also recently benefitted from.

Losey arrived in England in 1951 at the onset of MacCarthyism, realising that his career was over, to all intents and purposes, in the States.

The Servant is a classic film and groundbreaking for  several reasons. Losey brought with him a completely different approach, doing away the rather staid practices over here and bringing something new and fresh to the table. He is also responsible for discovering both Edward and James Fox.

With music by John Dankworth and his cinematographer of choice Douglas Slocombe, Losey got hold of Robin Maugham’s novel, which Pinter had previously made into a play, and then adapted further into a screenplay. They almost came to blows over the finished script, but Losey persisted and it proved time well-spent; The Servant is a remarkable film.

Good timing too for Dirk Bogarde, who had long since tired of stock ‘leading man’ roles and wanted something a bit more interesting and dirtier to get his teeth into. Great turns also by a host of household names, Sarah Miles, Patrick Magee, Wendy Craig, Annie Firbank and even Pinter himself.

The Servant centres on an aristocrat (Fox) not long back in the country, who has bought a London townpad and feels the need for a manservant; an already outdated notion in the early Sixties. The film opens with potential, Bogarde, approaching the house for his interview. What follows is a brilliant concoction of Pinter’s dialogue, Losey’s direction and two very handsome actors at the top of their game.

Exploring myriad themes of the day: the class divide; the bankruptcy of the aristocracy; the moral bankruptcy of the working classes; the sexual revolution; homosexuality and a general shaking off of the value system of the day, principally, this is a film about power. Heady stuff, the impact of which cannot be underestimated, in terms of both content and style, on work to come thereafter.

Losey is quoted thus: ‘Films can illustrate our existence…they can distress, disturb and provoke people into thinking about themselves and certain problems. But not give the answers’. It’s a complex piece with many characters, none of whom escape untarnished and is all the better for it. Gone are the stock stereotypes of yore, where it was easy to know.


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